14 July 2020

Injuries and chaos won't dampen grudge matches for Raiders and Brumbies

| Tim Gavel
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Raiders supporters at ANZ Stadium

The Raiders preparing for a grand final rematch with the Rosters in Round 10. Photo: Tim Gavel.

When the revamped NRL schedule was released, no fixture looked more promising than the two grand finalists from 2020 meeting in Round 10.

It would provide grieving Raiders fans with an opportunity to partially erase the memory of ‘six again’. Co-captain Jarrod Croker still can’t bring himself to watch a replay of the game.

Prior to the grand final there had existed a certain amount of rivalry between the two teams. There’s history.

Before the Raiders signed with Super League there had been a suggestion that the Roosters were eyeing off Canberra stars like Bradley Clyde. The argument was that by signing with Super League it would allow the Raiders to stay together.

Meanwhile, in Super Rugby, games between the Brumbies and the Waratahs have always had an ‘us versus them’ undertone with a rivalry consisting of many layers built up over the years.

In the early days of Super Rugby, the Brumbies recruited a number of NSW players, many of whom felt as though they had a point to prove. And the rivalry has been amplified since then.

In the lead up to the 2005 game between the two teams at Canberra Stadium, Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie, himself a former Brumbies player, drove the team bus emblazoned with NSW players on the side through the streets of the ACT before briefly parking outside the Brumbies headquarters at Griffith.

The Waratahs went on to win that game 10-6 with NSW fly-half Lachlan Mackay scoring the lone try.

The tension between the teams has remained through the years. Every game between the two teams echoes the rivalry.

Just before the COVID-19 shutdown in March, the Brumbies inflicted a huge 47-14 victory at Canberra Stadium, but a win against the Waratahs in Sydney this weekend would mean a whole lot more.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, the Brumbies were one of the form sides of Super Rugby, sitting second on the overall ladder.

The Brumbies will be going for five wins in a row against the Waratahs heading into Saturday night’s game in Sydney.

But the Australian Domestic Super Rugby season is yet to establish any momentum, especially for Brumbies supporters. The Brumbies played against the Rebels in the opening round of the revamped competition 10 days ago, only to have the bye last weekend.

Then there is the continuing debate over the future of Australian teams with the New Zealand Rugby Union playing hardball on a new competition for next season.

It is the continuation of an unsettling period on and off the field for Australian Rugby.

However, at the team level, both the Raiders and the Brumbies will have games this weekend that are impacted by COVID-19 and injuries.

The NRL game between the Roosters and the Raiders will still have plenty of feeling but it has been robbed of its lustre because of injuries to key players.

The game could be missing up to 16 players from last year’s decider.

The Roosters roster is depleted with injuries to Radley, Tupou and Verrills while Liu, Cordner and Brett Morris remain in doubt. Despite these setbacks, the Roosters are one of the form sides in the premiership.

The Raiders have a crippling injury toll with six players on the sidelines. The departure of Leilua and Sezer from last year’s grand final team bring the number of changes to eight.

The absence of Hodgson, Bateman, Simonsson, Guler, Soliola and Horsburgh presents an opportunity for players who probably weren’t in calculations for this game at the start of the season.

For mine, the constant travel endured by the Raiders playing ‘home’ games in Campbelltown has also affected the team.

It promises to remain an exciting weekend for Raiders and Brumbies fans, but who could have predicted nine months ago the changes that have occurred more broadly as well as closer to home?

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